What is Cloud Computing?

Interactions in Cloud Computing environments

There’s a lot of buzz about cloud computing, but the concept can leave some “up in the clouds” and “over one’s head”, so to speak.  So, what exactly is cloud computing?

Unlike a network server, which is a physical entity, cloud computing is a service where resources, information, and software can be accessed by multiple computers over a larger network (i.e. the Internet), allowing access to anyone in the “network” anytime, from any computer, and with the ability to share.

The article below discusses the benefits of cloud computing system over traditional server set ups, and why more companies are making the switch.  There are a lot of misunderstandings regarding cloud computing, so before deciding to make the switch, it is important to understand the benefits and the infrastructure as it applies to your organization.

Does your office operate using any cloud computing services? How has it changed how you work?

Think about all of the things you have to worry about when you own and operate your own servers:

Running out of capacity?

Capacity planning is always important. When you own your own hardware, however, you have two problems that the cloud simplifies for you: what happens when you are wrong (either overoptimistic or pessimistic), and what happens if you don’t have the expansion capital when the time comes to buy new hardware. When you manage your own infrastructure, you have to cough up a lot of cash for every new Storage Area Network (SAN) or every new server you buy. You also have a significant lead time from the moment you decide to make a purchase to getting it through the procurement process, to taking delivery, and finally to having the system racked, installed, and tested.

What happens when there is a problem?

Sure, any good server has redundancies in place to survive typical hardware problems. Even if you have an extra hard drive on hand when one of the drives in your RAID array fails, someone has to remove the old drive from the server, manage the RMA,[1] and put the new drive into the server. That takes time and skill, and it all needs to happen in a timely fashion to prevent a complete failure of the server.

[1] Return merchandise authorization. When you need to return a defective part, you generally have to go through some vendor process for returning that part and obtaining a replacement.

What happens when there is a disaster?

If an entire server goes down, unless you are in a high-availability infrastructure, you have a disaster on your hands and your team needs to rush to address the situation. Hopefully, you have solid backups in place and a strong disaster recovery plan to get things operational ASAP. This process is almost certainly manual.

Don’t need that server anymore?

Perhaps your capacity needs are not what they used to be, or perhaps the time has come to decommission a fully depreciated server. What do you do with that old server? Even if you give it away, someone has to take the time to do something with that server. And if the server is not fully depreciated, you are incurring company expenses against a machine that is not doing anything for your business.

What about real estate and electricity?

When you run your own infrastructure (or even if you have a rack at an ISP), you may be paying for real estate and electricity that are largely unused. That’s a very ungreen thing, and it is a huge waste of money.

None of these issues are concerns with a proper cloud infrastructure:

  • You add capacity into a cloud infrastructure the minute you need it, and not a moment sooner. You don’t have any capital expense associated with the allocation, so you don’t have to worry about the timing of capacity needs with budget needs. Finally, you can be up and running with new capacity in minutes, and thus look good even when you get caught with your pants down.
  • You don’t worry about any of the underlying hardware, ever. You may never even know if the physical server you have been running on fails completely. And, with the right tools, you can automatically recover from the most significant disasters while your team is asleep.
  • When you no longer need the same capacity or you need to move to a different virtual hardware configuration, you simply deprovision your server. You do not need to dispose of the asset or worry about its environmental impact.
  • You don’t have to pay for a lot of real estate and electricity you never use. Because you are using a fractional portion of a much beefier piece of hardware than you need, you are maximizing the efficiency of the physical space required to support your computing needs. Furthermore, you are not paying for an entire rack of servers with mostly idle CPU cycles consuming electricity.

via “Cloud Computing – an Excerpt from Cloud Application Architectures.”


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